A lawsuit filed in 2011 by the family of Ahmad Khan Rahami alleged a long-running pattern of racial and religious discrimination by police and city officials, according to documents on file in federal court.
The case centered around the family’s restaurant, First American Fried Chicken, which became the target of officials after allegedly violating city regulations by staying open past a 10 p.m. curfew. James Dean McDermott, who owns a business nearby, was accused in court papers of calling in numerous complaints about the Rahami’s restaurant, and also making racially charged statements. “Muslims make too much trouble in this country,” McDermott (who is referred to as Dean in the complaint ) allegedly told family members, saying their restaurant was contributing to crime by drawing late-night crowds.
At other times McDermott allegedly told family members that “Muslims don’t belong here,” and the lawsuit alleges that city police “conspired…to harass, intimidate, and threaten” the plaintiffs because of their race and religion.
Calls made to McDermott at his place of business weren’t answered on Monday evening, but he denied the allegations of racism in a statement to NBC, and told the Times that the restaurant was often filled with “rowdy” patrons who used his yard as a toilet. From the Times:
At first, the restaurant was open 24 hours a day and became a local nuisance, said J. Christian Bollwage, the mayor of Elizabeth and a neighbor. Rowdy crowds appeared after midnight.
Dean McDermott, who lives nearby and is a news videographer, complained, as did others. Often Mr. McDermott discovered patrons loitering in his yard and urinating in his driveway, and he called the police.
The Rahamis argued in their suit that a municipal ordinance mandating the ten o’clock curfew didn’t apply to their establishment. A citation issued to the restaurant in 2008 was dismissed by a local court, they contended, under an exception of certain restaurants that serve most of their customers inside. Nonetheless, they claim they continued to be “harassed” by local police. The suit also contended that they received conflicting information from various officers, some of whom said they were operating legally after 10 p.m. and some of whom said they were in violation of the local law.
The lawsuit alleges that the city police and local authorities “were [acting] based solely on the plaintiffs’ religion, creed, race and national origin.” Elizabeth mayor J. Christian Bollwage denied the accusations in comments to the Times.
Mr. McDermott said a fragile truce was reached, whereby the restaurant would close at midnight or 1 a.m.
A few months ago, however, a for-sale sign appeared on the front, according to Mr. McDermott.
Some of Mr. Rahami’s customers were fond of him, especially those he favored with free meals. “He gave me free chicken,” Mr. McCann said. “He was always the most friendly man you ever met.”
The case was stayed in 2015 without resolution, for reasons that weren’t immediately clear. A call to Shelley Stangler, the Rahamis’ attorney throughout much of the case, was not returned on Monday evening.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 19, 2016